February 2017 Church & State - February 2017

NYPD Allows Sikh Officers To Wear Turbans; Beard Length Still Limited

  AU admin

The New York Police Department (NYPD) in late December changed its uniform policy to allow Sikh police officers to wear turbans while on duty.

The revised policy permits a religious accommodation of turbans with a hat shield attached in place of the typical hat worn by police officers, according to The New York Times.

Previously, the NYPD’s estimated 160 Sikh officers had to stuff their unshorn hair into a small wrap called a patka, which was then worn beneath the police cap, according to The Times and CNN. For Sikhs, allowing hair to grow naturally is a religious tenet known as kesh.

The NYPD also loosened the restriction on beards, which was previously set at one millimeter in length, or basically stubble. The new religious accommodation permits a beard length of a half-inch, which advocates said is an improvement but still is not ideal.

“While it’s definitely a great step, we look forward to reviewing the policy in depth and ensuring that Sikhs can serve with their turban and beards intact and with no limitations or restrictions to either,” said Kavneet Singh, a board member of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, according to CNN.

Masood Syed, a Muslim NYPD officer who said he was suspended for wearing a beard longer than permitted, filed a federal lawsuit against the department last summer. Syed, who was reinstated, seeks to wear a two-inch beard.

“I’m still disappointed,” Syed, who is also a lawyer, told CNN. “If they’re saying now that the policy is half an inch and I’m walking around in police headquarters with the top brass, walking around with a beard that’s 1 1/2 to 2 inches, where does that leave me? Am I going to be suspended again?”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army in January made it easier for Sikhs, Muslims and members of other faiths to request a religious accommodation for hair length and head coverings.

Brigade-level commanders now can grant accommodations for beards, turbans, patkas, hijabs and some hairstyles, according to Reuters. Previously, the accommodations could be granted only  by the secretary of the Army, reported the military news website Military.com.

Under the new policy, beards should be no longer than 2 inches unless they are rolled or tied up; head coverings are permitted but must be a similar color to a soldier’s uniform and must fit under a combat helmet or protective headgear. Hairstyles such as braids, cornrows and twists may also be approved, but must fit under headgear.

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